Interview with 2011 Debutante, Jerry Gabriel

On April 29th, at our 2nd Annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating five One Story authors who have published their debut books over the past year. As a lead up to the event, we thought it would be a fun idea to introduce our Debs through a series of interviews on their debut book experiences.

This week, in our second installment, we had the pleasure of speaking with Jerry Gabriel, author of Drowned Boy (Sarabande), a harrowing collection that includes the story he published with One Story, “Boys Industrial School.”

Set in the hardscrabble borderlands where Appalachia meets the Midwest, Jerry Gabriel’s Drowned Boy reveals a world of brutality, beauty, and danger in the forgotten landscape of small-town basketball tournaments and family reunions. Selected by Andrea Barrett for the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, these stories probe the fraught cusp of adulthood, the frustrations of escape and difference, and the emotional territory of disappointment.

1) How did you celebrate when you found out your first book was going to be published?

In spite of the fact that the news came at a busy time—my wife and I were preparing to move to another state and trying to sell our house in the worst market since the Dust Bowl—we took a break, collected our friends, and repaired to a favorite Ithaca watering hole, where we made many, many toasts to, among other people, places and things, Sarabande Books and Andrea Barrett, who had judged the contest. It was of course fantastic news to learn of the book’s publication, but that Andrea, whose work I’ve long admired, had been the one to choose it was an incredible vote of confidence.

2) Your collection includes, “Boys Industrial School,” which you published with us in One Story. What happened from when you published in One Story to when your first book was accepted?

I had already published (or was in the process of publishing) many of the stories in the book in magazines when “Boys Industrial School” came out in One Story, but the response from that story was really of a different magnitude. For starters, people read it. I got emails about it from strangers. I heard from publishers, editors of other magazines. It’s how I was lucky enough to find my agent, Katherine Fausset. But the book was still some years off. During much of that time, I was writing a novel—it’s called Resurrecting the Single Wing and is a sequel of sorts to Drowned Boy—but I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that the publication of “Boys Industrial School,” which I have to say Hannah Tinti helped me make approximately a thousand times better, was what got the ball rolling for the collection.

3) During the editing of Drowned Boy, was there any single piece of advice you received or perhaps remembered from earlier in your career that helped ease the process?

I took a class with Stuart Dybek in graduate school and over the years have thought a lot about many of the things that he had to say about writing and art. He’s a very smart guy. I remember him once saying about the creation of his own book, The Coast of Chicago—one of my favorite collections of all time—that early on he had these stories that obviously worked together on some levels but not on others, and that as he began to think of them as a single book, he worked very hard to give them, in addition to the punch of the individual stories, a comprehensive, singular effect. Basically, he sculpted a loosely defined larger story out of the individual stories, one in which place was the key element, but other features—characters and events—overlapped. I took his experience to heart when I began to think of Drowned Boy as a book. I jettisoned stories that didn’t quite fit. I revised others to work with the narrative arc I was constructing. I changed the point of view of one story—this with the help of my editor at Sarabande, Kirby Gann. And I have been really pleased with the cumulative effect of it all.

4) You were the recipient of the 2008 Mary McCarthy Prize, which in addition to a cash award, also includes publication of a book length manuscript. How has your life changed since winning this prestigious prize and what has it been like working with the folks over at Sarabande?

First things first: the people at Sarabande are the absolute best. In preparing the manuscript and getting the word out about the book, I have worked with everyone there—Editor-in-Chief, Sarah Gorham, Kirby Gann, Caroline Casey, and Meg Bowden, as well as two people who have since moved on, Jen Woods and Nickole Brown. These people are all ridiculously good at their jobs. I feel so lucky to have worked with them on this book. I couldn’t have scripted a better experience, seriously.

Since the book came out, life hasn’t changed a great deal, except that along with my wife, whose first book of poems came out in 2009, I have done quite a bit of traveling for readings. While we used to go to the Adirondacks or Argentina for vacation, lately we’ve gone to Ohio and Illinois. Which, I should say, has been really great.

5) What are you looking forward to the most about the One Story Literary Debutante Ball on April 29th?

Having myself a BULLDOG gin cocktail, naturally. And getting the chance to chat with so many talented writers.

For more information about Drowned Boy , check out Sarabande Books. Or read more about Jerry at his author website.

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